Starting Thursday, a new city law goes into effect in Macon that requires massage parlors, spas and other similar businesses to get city licenses and requires all personnel working in those businesses to be licensed by the state.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp introduced the new requirements at a joint news conference Wednesday with members of the Macon Police Department.
Meanwhile, Kemp said a new state law allows law enforcement to go after the owners and operators of these businesses and punish them if they employ unlicensed workers. Previously, only the worker would be punished.
“We worked with the city on the language, not only Macon, but cities in other parts of the state,” he said. “It speeds up actions and allows us to take new actions.”
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Kemp said a first-time offender will be issued a cease-and-desist order if the business doesn’t have a proper license. After that, the business would face additional fines if the infractions continued.
Reichert credited the city attorney’s office and Macon City Council members Erick Erickson, Larry Schlesinger and Nancy White in getting the local law passed.
“Our local efforts have dovetailed into the state’s efforts,” Reichert said. “We’re trying to bring an end to unlicensed massage parlors that are thinly masking prostitution, sex for hire and masturbation for hire.”
Reichert said though there is no evidence of human trafficking in Macon itself, it is a problem in other parts of the state, and by having stricter laws in the books, it will help curb the problem.
Lt. Kelly Monroe, a member of the police department’s drug and vice unit, said the city has seen a reduction in the number of spas, dropping from 18 suspected locations in 2008 to 12 that the police are currently monitoring. He said some of the spas have shut down, while others have moved or changed their names.
Monroe said the new law allows police to inspect the licenses of the spas and their workers rather than having to conduct an undercover operation to see if they find anything illegal.
Kemp said getting a license under the new rules is a much more stringent process that not only weeds out businesses that are fronts for illegal activity but also gives credibility to legitimate therapeutic massage businesses.
“It hurts (legitimate) businesses when you have the unlicensed businesses that are doing other things like human trafficking,” he said.
Andrew Silver, a Mercer University English professor, serves as the head of the Middle Georgia Alliance to End Regional Trafficking, a community-based group seeking to eliminate human trafficking across the state. Silver, who attended the news conference, praised the city and state for taking these steps.
“I think it’s a really solid law,” he said. “It’s common sense. ... It will radically reduce a criminal presence in Macon. ... It’s a law that’s sensitive to legitimate massage therapists while creating a less friendly environment for criminal enterprises.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.